News / Asia

Pakistan Governor’s Assassination Underscores Societal Chasm

Pakistani PM Yousuf Raza Gilani, center, surrounded by officials and members of his government, offers a prayer during the funeral procession of Punjab Gov. Salman Taseer in Lahore, Pakistan, 05 Jan 2011.
Pakistani PM Yousuf Raza Gilani, center, surrounded by officials and members of his government, offers a prayer during the funeral procession of Punjab Gov. Salman Taseer in Lahore, Pakistan, 05 Jan 2011.

Multimedia

Audio

The killing of the governor of Pakistan's most populous province has highlighted the ongoing clash in Pakistani society between secularism and religious radicalism.  Some of that radicalism is fueled by resentment against a privileged and often secular-minded elite who govern the country.

Severe polarization

The death of Punjab Governor Salman Taseer, allegedly at the hands of one of his own bodyguards, has underscored what journalist Ahmad Rashid called a “very, very severe polarization” in Pakistan.

Governor of Punjab province Salman Taseer speaks to the media in Islamabad (File Photo - 28 Mar 2009)
Governor of Punjab province Salman Taseer speaks to the media in Islamabad (File Photo - 28 Mar 2009)

On one side, say analysts, is what is believed to be a comparatively small but vocal and determined group of Islamic radicals, some of them extreme to the point of violence.  At the other is a liberal and, to varying degrees, secular elite. And caught in the middle is the average Pakistani who is buffeted by economic and political uncertainty.

Analyst Lisa Curtis of the Heritage Foundation says Pakistan’s founding father, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, envisioned a multiethnic, multireligious society with Islam as a unifying force.  But she says events have caused the country to drift further towards extremism.

"It’s been events over the past 30 years, like the war against the Soviets in Afghanistan, the Islamization policies of General Zia ul-Haq during the 1980s, which has really strengthened the Islamist forces and the more puritanical sects in Pakistan over the more traditional and moderate Sunni sects," said Curtis.

That strength has not translated into popular votes.  When Pakistan has had free and fair elections, the religious parties have fared poorly, picking up only a sliver of seats.  But analysts say their power is in the street, not in the ballot box.

Political power in Pakistan has usually rested with an educated, liberal, and often wealthy elite - at least when the country was not under military rule. With his push to roll back the country’s blasphemy laws, Punjab Governor Salman Taseer epitomized what radicals view as an alarming secular drift in Pakistan.  Kamran Bokhari of the private intelligence firm, Stratfor, says radicals try to capitalize on that resentment against the governing class, as well as deepening economic woes, as a recruiting tool.

Protests in Multan, Pakistan, over the murder of Pakistan's Punjab province's governor Salman Taseer, 05 Jan 2011.
Protests in Multan, Pakistan, over the murder of Pakistan's Punjab province's governor Salman Taseer, 05 Jan 2011.



"Islamist militancy is able to nurture in this country because of that sentiment, because of that idea, this notion that somehow the ruling elite is going to tamper with religion as they know it and is working with the West to do that," said Bokhari.  "So this perception can drive a lot of people. And I can understand the motivation of this individual [the assassin]."

Roots of resentment

But, expressing her own views, Professor Hayat Alvi of the U.S. Naval War College says Pakistanis’ resentment of the government is not over religion, but over the basic issues of daily survival.

"When we had the floods in Pakistan, the devastating floods, a few months ago, it wasn’t religion that the poor were complaining about and secular government ruling them," said Alvi.  "It was that they didn’t get any relief from government emergency forces to give them food, water, and the basic necessities as victims of a major natural disaster.  So at the end of the day, it’s bread, the issue of bread and butter and basic necessities."

Analysts say extremists have penetrated some elements of the government, especially the security agencies.  Some officers of the powerful Inter-Services Intelligence directorate have been accused by officials of several governments of backing the Afghan Taliban and anti-Indian extremist groups.

Government's attitute

The alleged killer of Governor of Punjab, Salman Taseer, being brought to a court in Islamabad, Pakistan, 05 Jan 2011.
The alleged killer of Governor of Punjab, Salman Taseer, being brought to a court in Islamabad, Pakistan, 05 Jan 2011.

Lisa Curtis of the Heritage Foundation says the government sends mixed signals when some radical groups are allowed to operate unmolested by security forces.

"Unfortunately, when you have confusion at the official level in terms of groups that are conducting terrorist attacks in India - for example, the Lashkar-e-Taiba, which is allowed to function in society - and are not prosecuted, when the government is not cracking down on these extremist groups, unfortunately, I think, it emboldens the groups and it sends a signal that they’re beyond punishment or they’re beyond the law," said Curtis.

Questions have already been raised in the Taseer killing.  The alleged assassin, Mumtaz Qadri, said he killed the governor because he was a “blasphemer.”  There is as yet no evidence of a wider conspiracy, but analysts have pointed out that Qadri was able to enlist in the Elite Force of the Punjab police and join the governor’s protection squad despite reported warnings about his extreme religious views.  Pakistani officials say Qadri pumped more than 20 bullets into the governor.  No members of the security detail returned fire.

You May Like

China Announces Corruption Probe into Senior Ex-Leader

Former security chief and member of Politburo Standing Committee, Zhou Yongkang, being probed for suspected 'serious disciplinary violation' More

India, US Look to Reset Ties During Kerry Visit

This week's talks will be first high level interaction between two countries since Prime Minister Narendra Modi took charge More

Video Young African Leadership Program Renamed to Honor Mandela

YALI program, launched by President Obama in 2010, aims to build skills in business, entrepreneurship, public management and civic leadership More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Students in Business for Themselvesi
X
Mike O'Sullivan
July 26, 2014 11:04 AM
They're only high school students, but they are making accessories for shoes, fabricating backpacks and doing product photography - all through their own businesses. It's the result of a partnership between a non-profit organization that teaches entrepreneurship and their schools. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan and Deyane Moses met the budding entrepreneurs near Los Angeles.
Video

Video Students in Business for Themselves

They're only high school students, but they are making accessories for shoes, fabricating backpacks and doing product photography - all through their own businesses. It's the result of a partnership between a non-profit organization that teaches entrepreneurship and their schools. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan and Deyane Moses met the budding entrepreneurs near Los Angeles.
Video

Video Astronauts Train in Underwater Lab

In the world’s only underwater laboratory, four U.S. astronauts train for a planned visit to an asteroid. The lab - called Aquarius- is located five kilometers off Key Largo, in southern Florida. Living in close quarters and making excursions only into the surrounding ocean, they try to simulate the daily routine of a crew that will someday travel to collect samples of a rock orbiting far away from earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Not Even Monks Spared From Thailand’s Junta-Backed Morality Push

With Thailand’s military government firmly in control after May’s bloodless coup, authorities are carrying out plans they say are aimed at restoring discipline, morality and patriotism to all Thais. The measures include a crackdown on illegal gambling, education reforms to promote students’ moral development, and a new 24-hour phone hotline for citizens to report misbehaving monks. Steve Sandford reports from Bangkok.
Video

Video Virtual Program Teaches Farming Skills

In a fast-changing world beset by unpredictable climate conditions, farmers cannot afford to ignore new technology. Researchers in Australia are developing an online virtual world program to share information about climate change and more sustainable farming techniques for sugar cane growers. As VOA's Zlatica Hoke reports, the idea is to create a wider support network for farmers.
Video

Video Airline Expert: Missile will Show Signature on Debris

The debris field from Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 is spread over a 21-kilometer radius in eastern Ukraine. It is expected to take investigators months to sort through the airplane pieces to learn about the missile that brought down the jetliner and who fired it. VOAs Carolyn Presutti explains how this work will be done.
Video

Video Treatment for Childhood Epilepsy Heats up Medical Marijuana Debate

In the United States, marijuana is classed as an illegal drug by the federal government. But nearly half the states have legalized it, to some degree. Proponents say some strains of marijuana might have exceptional health benefits, for treating pain or inflammation in chronic conditions such as cancer, multiple sclerosis and epilepsy. Shelley Schlender reports on a strain of medical marijuana developed in Colorado that is reputed to reduce seizures in childhood epilepsy
Video

Video Airbus Adds Metal 3D Printed Parts to New Jets

By the end of this year, European aircraft manufacturing consortium Airbus plans to deliver the first of its new, extra-wide-body passenger jets, the A350-XWB. Among other technological innovations, the new plane will also incorporate metal parts made in a 3-D printer. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video AIDS Conference Welcomes Exciting Developments in HIV Treatment, Prevention

Significant strides have been made in recent years toward the treatment and prevention of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. This year, at the International AIDS Conference, the AIDS community welcomed progress on a new pill that may prevent transmission of the deadly virus. VOA’s Anita Powell reports from Melbourne, Australia.
Video

Video IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Form

Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.

AppleAndroid